Monday, October 17, 2011

How much 'Jane' is there in Campion's 'Janet'?

Here's a well-researched, intelligent and grown-up view on this topic. How refreshing!

Jane Campion: Authorship and Personal Cinema
by Alistair Fox
Indiana University Press (2011)

Publisher's Blurb:

Alistair Fox explores the dynamics of the creative process involved in cinematic representation in the films of Jane Campion, one of the most highly regarded of contemporary filmmakers. Utilizing a wealth of new material—including interviews with Campion and her sister and personal writings of her mother—Fox traces the connections between the filmmaker’s complex background and the thematic preoccupations of her films, from her earliest short, Peel, to 2009’s Bright Star. He establishes how Campion’s deep investment in family relationships informs her aesthetic strategies, revealed in everything from the handling of shots and lighting, to the complex system of symbolic images repeated from one film to the next.

The chapter dedicated to discussing Jane Campion's adaptation of Janet Frame's autobiography is called:

"How painful it is to have a family member with a problem like that": Authorship as Creative Adaptation in An Angel at My Table.

I can highly recommend Alistair Fox's book for its analysis of the ways in which the Campion film diverges from the text it adapts - Frame's autobiography - in order to play out and project Jane's own preoccupations and personal themes onto Janet's story.

One of the issues Fox identifies is the fact that the father in the Angel movie appears to have been lifted out of somewhere other than Frame's life. Some of the scenes concerning the father and daughter have been fictionalised.

I can testify, having watched the videotape of the Campion movie with Janet Frame at her home, that when she saw scenes like the one where 'Janet' returns to her family home after her father's death, and tries on his boots, she exclaimed "I would never have done something like that!"

Consequently, the influence of Frame's mother Lottie in the movie, has been altered and downplayed.

Alistair Fox notes that Campion's depiction of Janet is consistent with
"a child who has suffered emotional deprivation because of some disturbance in the process of primordial psychic structuring that should have taken place through the infant-mother relationship. Campion appears to have constructed Janet as an embodiment, or emblem, of this condition of narcissistic fragility" (page 98).
Fox goes on to document that in interviews and elsewhere Campion herself has identified strongly with this condition: "We all feel vulnerable and unchosen, unlovable, uncared about in one way or another" she said in her director's commentary to the film. But by going back to Janet Frame's text Fox is able to ascertain that there is not in fact any evidence for this aspect to Frame's childhood:
'There is nothing in Frame's autobiography to suggest that Janet's parents neglected her or left her feeling unloved, nor that she felt a "desperate need for attention". These states of mind appear to be imputed as a result of Jane Campion's projections.'
All this creativity and transformation from the page to the screen is as one would expect of the work of a great artist like Jane Campion. Unfortunately over time the Campion movie has been read by many almost as a documentary or 'biopic' of Janet Frame's life, and has led from the sublime poetry of the film - which on one of its levels is an inspiring study in the struggle of a female artist to survive adversity and to triumph over it - to the absurd ridiculousness of posthumous speculations about Janet Frame's 'mental state' based on the behaviour of the actors in the Campion film.

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